Live or later: What's your ideal Olympics coverage?
A wartime appeal for Britons to maintain a stiff upper lip has morphed into a myriad of Olympic memes. NBC is the target here.
July 30th, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Live or later: What's your ideal Olympics coverage?

Which Olympic viewer are you? The one who wants to know what happens live when the rest of the world does? Or the one who enjoys NBC's prime-time mashup, with the best event shown in the United States hours after medals have been awarded in Britain?

If you're the latter, you've probably been thrilled with the London 2012 Games coverage.

But if you're the former, you might have been among the thousands railing over the weekend against NBC for not understanding the digital age in which spoilers trickle through every nook of the Internet before the event you've been waiting four years to see finally airs.

As a wired (and wireless) society, now even more so than during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the tactic of using a tape delay to save the best events for nighttime viewers - also the most lucrative audience for NBC - has become harder to pull off.

Yes, NBC is airing all the events live online if you have a cable provider. But if you miss that showing, log on to Facebook, check your favorite news site or heaven forbid check social media, you're bound to catch a spoiler. Mostly, that's because NBC does not show many marquee events until about five hours after they've happened.  (We should note this debate occurs regularly when East Coast viewers spoil finales or award shows for the West Coast.)

The tape delay of events on TV and the resulting online spoilers have led to a massive outcry from the Twitterverse and given the aggrieved a place to lodge their complaints. The spoiler problem has also spawned its own hashtag to make the point clear.

In the minds of a growing number of digital users, the Olympics have been a big #NBCfail. And folks online are making sure NBC knows how they feel.

The hashtag was so popular, it is no surprise that a parody account, @NBCDelayed, popped up so quickly, tweeting unbelievably old headlines about prior Olympics to beat the network over the head about how annoyed viewers were.

As of Monday morning, that account had accumulated more than 15,000 followers.

That's not to say there aren't many people who are thrilled with NBC's coverage. The record-setting viewership proves it, and people are tuning in at unbelievable rates.

Saturday night's lineup, which included the heavily spoiled,  top-billed men's 400-meter individual medley pitting Michael Phelps head-to-head with Ryan Lochte, pulled in an average of 28.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen, the highest ever for the first night of Olympic competition.

That race had not only been spoiled by Twitter - alerts from practically every sports and news website - but also by the traditional evening newscasts.

So, are Americans tuning in because it's the way most want to see the Olympics? Os it because viewers may already know the results, but they want to see how it all unfolds? Or maybe it's because they already set the DVR on the way out the door? Or maybe they still want to see the packaged deal with all-inclusive profiles about the Olympians that makes our (OK, at least my) eyes well up with tears?

It seems that NBC is caught between a rock and a hard place. It has offered a way to see all events live but clearly not in a way all viewers want it. Some argue that those who do watch the Games live will inevitably spoil it for those who are waiting. Others want folks to quit their whining and acknowledge all of what NBC has offered.

"Not everyone is online all the time all day long. For those people, a nicely curated, best-of package at night is awesome. Even for those of us that are online, it's still pretty cool to see how things happen. Sports are better seen than read," Jay Yarow wrote on  Business Insider. "For the rest of you, it's live-streamed online. Go nuts watching it. There is nothing stopping you."

But in a world of DVRs, where users are accustomed to being in control, both sides bring up interesting points. And with NBC locking down the Olympics contract for the near future at least, it surely will lead to further discussion about how live events should be aired at subsequent Games. That's not just for the Olympics but also other major sporting events and awards shows.

Meanwhile, for now #NBCfail is still going strong. And while the network seems happy with Olympic viewership, it also isn't ignoring the loud chatter.

In response to the complaints, the executive producer for NBC's Olympic coverage waded into the deep end of the Twitter pool to assuage the angry masses.  Jim Bell tried to tell people when they could catch live events online to avoid spoilers and also even took a suggestion from a viewer after the nightly news spoiler.

Media critic Jeff Jarvis heavily engaged Twitter users about what an Olympic utopia might look like. In a post explaining his view of the future, he posed the idea of what it might look like if Google were leading the Olympic coverage.

He wrote he can see a way that outraged tweeting might be a tool to help bring viewers to a prime-time show when they know something big is going to happen.

"I can easily imagine people watching the Phelps defeat live tweeting their heads off telling their friends to watch it in prime time," Jarvis wrote.

But that's only a small part of it. The large, and more important issue, is trying to figure out how to serve all types of viewers, he said.

"The problem for NBC, as for other media, is that it is trying to preserve old business models in a new reality," he wrote. "To experiment with alternatives when billions are at stake is risky. But so is not experimenting and not learning when millions of your viewers can complain about you on Twitter."

One Twitter user suggested a solution: Treat it like a pay-per-view event.

What do you think of NBC's coverage? Vote in the poll below and let us know in the comments as well as what your ideal Olympics coverage would look like.

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Filed under: Olympics • Sports
soundoff (512 Responses)
  1. Adepaola

    I just wish that the American announcers would SHUT UP and let us watch.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    Right now, CNN has spoilers on it's homepage. Very disappointing for those of us at work who might be interested in watching it tonight.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger

      They aren't "spoilers." They are "results." It's called news.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. al joyner

    Yes they should be live all the time..Because drama will happen every second in the games... That is what the Oylmpic is about real time sports...let the real be real and leave the tape delayed to your DVR.
    Olympic Champion
    Al Joyner

    July 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cmav15

    CNN isn't helping at all. If you visit their site after a big event you will see breaking news and the results. It would be nice if it said "breaking news: olympic results", with a link to them so you don't spoil it for those who don't want to see the results. I would watch it live but i have bad internet connection and i would not be able to watch it at the same quality that i do on the tv.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      I second this. Would be nice, if, at the very least, the breaking news wasn't specific, warned of spoilers, and then took you to another page with the spoiler. I would guess that would bring more viewers back that are not visiting the site to avoid spoilers than it would lose page loads of the people that didn't care about spoilers. I could be wrong there though.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robert

    Once again; an ancient business model is foiled by modern day innovations.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Roger

    You people do realize that there's a time zone difference, right? If you want to watch swimming live at 9:00am London time are you going to wake up at 3:00am to watch it? You think the rest of the world should follow our U.S. time for the best events?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Yes, there are many (maybe a few 10s of thousands) that would wake up at 3 am. I follow English soccer and often have to wake up at 7AM to watch a match. And I'm on the East Coast. The issue that sparked this commentary though wasn't your scenario. It was the 400 IM which would have been live in the US at 11:30AM West Coast time on a weekend. Plenty accessible, that they didn't show until that evening.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Scott B

    Awful poll choices there. I think they should show high profile events live on TV. Maybe not on NBC, but at least on one of their other 20 channels. Showing every event live on TV is expecting way too much though. They should have live streams online along with replays online for every event. They do this now except they take away replays for events they are going to show in the evening. It would be nice if the online streams had "world feed" announcers in a few popular languages that gave you the option to listen to the language of your choice or have no commentary. Hiring maybe a couple of hundred people for this for 2 weeks doesn't seem too onerous, but I may be wrong. Then, I also have no problem continuing the sanitized and over produced evening shows. That's still probably what most people want to watch.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mallory Simon, CNN News blog editor

      Thanks for adding in Scott. I think there are so many great choices and options out there. Loved reading yours. I think it combines a lot of the issues folks are complaining about. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JDinHouston

    NBC blew it. The major races should be live, regardless of time, and then an evening recap of the day, including highlights of some events that are meaningful (little known, great back stories, the usual drama in sports stuff).

    July 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    You want to change things? Just stop watching the Olympics. Stop commenting about them. Stop everything. Go ride a bike. Make some homemade ice cream. Learn to knit. The most interesting thing to watch would be what would happen if everyone just suddenly stopped tuning in.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Iloveme

    I would love to watch the olympics live, because Its a bummer already knowing from media outlets before I watch the games. However, last night I set my LiveExtra app to notify me of the next basketball game. My phone went off about 1 in the morning, SNOOOOZE. LOL!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Arnie

    Twitter has changed the way people watch important live events. Live Tweeting has become a fun way to add enjoyment to a sporting event or an awards show. By delaying a broadcast, NBC eliminates the ability for people around the world to do this. NBC has so many broadcast channels, one could show events live, and another show a tape delay. Appealing to ALL viewers is the way for NBC to make the most money the can on the Olympic games.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jose

    NBC needs to unluck their app for those of us who are not cable subscribers because we live in the present and not in the PAST! They are an over the air broadcasting network and they don't pay for the privilege of being on the public waves. Who has time to schedule their day around a TV show on today's age? Its like its being run by people who are out of touch. What I'm going to do is watch the Olympics on the internet like I did back in the olden years of 2008. Thank you. I'm greateful there are other countries with well run TV stations.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      Those other countries offer it to people because their taxes have paid for the coverage. In your case, you haven't paid a dime (other than watching commercials) for the coverage, so I can't argue much with NBC requiring a cable subscription.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lisa

    Canada=winning. All marquee events are live on CTV. Could not have imagined watching that gymnastics team final this morning on a tape delay. So remarkable. But I won't be a spoiler.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Deborah

    My greatest enjoyment is in watching the action and the faces and emotions of each athlete as the events unfold. The reactions of the Olympians as their dreams become reality... the tears of joy or of anguish are human... real... and THOSE are the reasons I watch the games. Social media and news headlines can be ignored, if that is one's wish.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • TiredOfTheCrap

      It wouldn't be nearly as much of a problem if the results were not PLASTERED ALL OVER THE CNN HOME PAGE.

      Must be CNN doesn't want anyone watching NBC in the evening eh?

      July 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nothanksimdriving123

    NBC also messed up some of their coverage of the Opening Ceremonies, cutting out the tribute to the victims of England's 7/7 terrorist attack, cutting the athletes' oath, and yapping at times when they should have shut up, such as during songs and when the stadium announcers were telling us what was happening. Sloppy.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      That's been a common complaint. I'll admit I watched an illegal BBC stream opening ceremony and came away pretty happy. It was quirky and very British, but well done. I only watched a bit of the NBC broadcast before I went out, but I could already tell they were ruining it with the background audio turned down in favor of the announcers who somehow talked too much without really giving the American audience the right knowledge to fully understand the symbolism involved. Wasn't surprised to come back to hear the negative feedback. Didn't think they'd go so far as to cut out a terrorism victim tribute though...

      July 30, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
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